African women hold workshop on Economic Partnership Agreements
Mr Tetteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes of Third World Network, has said that the European Union tactics of demanding from individual countries to sign the Economic Partnership Agreements on their own instead of doing so as a bloc was a major affront to regional integration.
Speaking at a three-day workshop on the EPAs for women across the Africa region, Mr Hormeku said the EU through the acts of fragmentation had clearly shown her non-commitment to the promotion of regional integration as she had always maintained in her argument for the signing of the EPAs.
He cited the reported signing of the EPAs by some countries within the Southern Africa Development Community without South Africa and Namibia and a similar one to be signed in the Eastern Africa Region, which had been aborted in the last minute.
The workshop being held on the theme: 'Promoting African Women's Voices and Concerns in the Stop EPAs Campaigns,' is to examine the impact and the consequences of the EPAs on women and formulate actions to reach out to the public.
The EU is seeking under the EPAs the opening up of the markets of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries duty and quota free for goods from Europe in exchange for the same treatment to products from the ACP countries.
The EPAs will replace the current Cotonou Agreement, which expires at the end of December, under which ACP countries enjoyed preferential access to the EU markets.
The EU had argued that the Cotonou regime is incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that demand equal treatment for all member countries and because the current arrangements heavily favoured ACP countries, access to EU markets over other developing countries will be challenged.
West Africa Trade Negotiators at a meeting in Abidjan had asked for extension of the World Trade Organisation's waiver but the EU is unwilling to accede to the request.
Instead, the EU has proposed a two stage approach to the EPAs, that is concluding an interim agreement in the area of market access by the end of November this year, while negotiations on services and other trade related issues such as government procurement would continue till 2008.
Mr Hormeku said governments should not be lured by the subtle attempts of the EU to get them to sign on to the EPA through the backdoor, saying the EPA-Light was a modified EPA that will commit them to sign the other agreements in the area of services and trade related issues, which they had clearly refused to negotiate.
Instead, he said, governments should put on the table the enhanced Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) as an alternative to the Economic Partnership Agreements when the current trade regime expires on December 31, this year.
Mr Hormeku said the GSP+ would allow the same access for goods to the European Union Market.
Dr Yao Graham, Co-ordinator of Third World Network, said the EU had so far been unrelenting in its interest and demand for sticking to the deadline.
This, he said, called for a concentrated engagement and a lot more public mobilisation even when the agreement was signed.